Tag Archives: poverty

Is poverty a greater threat to Thais than Covid 19?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While I am very reluctant to tempt fate by making any conclusive remarks about the effect of the Covid 19 world pandemic on Thai society, there are indications that the spread of the virus and the death rates in Thailand are much lower than the figures from Western Europe and the USA. But the effects of the parliamentary military junta’s lock-down rules on the poor have been devastating.


The lower levels of Covid 19 deaths in Thailand are little to do with government measures. The figures are similar to other South-East Asian countries.

See https://bit.ly/2KWTPdV

If we look at the number of deaths per million people, the Philippines has the highest at 6, followed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore with 3. Thailand’s figure is 0.8. This compares to the appalling figure of 598 for the U.K.

The lower proportion of elderly people in the population of South-East Asia may be a small factor, but this must surely be countered by the much higher levels of poverty and ill health.

Some research papers from Harvard University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine have questioned the belief that warmer climates help to reduce the spread of the virus. Traditional flu does show peaks in winter and troughs in the summer. But the figures above mean that we have to wonder whether hot and humid climates and strong sunlight and UV radiation, together with more time spent outdoors, do have a significant effect on reducing Covid 19.

The extremely low Covid 19 figures for Vietnam show that the country’s draconian lock-down measures plus testing and tracking are also significant. So I do not advocate any premature lifting of lock down measures anywhere.

Of course, we must also be mindful of the quality of data from governments that hide the truth and record Covid 19 deaths under other categories due to lack of testing.

While the present levels of Covid 19 cases and deaths in Thailand are low, the threat of hunger and destitution among the poor is shocking. The closure of entertainment establishments, restaurants, street stalls, workplaces associated with the tourist industry, and many factories, means that millions are trying to survive on no income. This can be seen by the desperate queues for food and cash hand-outs from charitable organisations.



Meanwhile the government’s support for the unemployed is totally inadequate and shambolic. This shines a light on glaring inequality in society and the fact that Thailand does not have a welfare state. The rich and the elite continue to ride on the backs of millions of poor workers and peasants and the King and other royal parasites live in unbelievable luxury. Wachiralongkorn flies between his five-star hotel in Germany and his palace in Thailand, often ordering food and other items to be flown out to him in Europe according to his whims.

Wachiralongkorn’s hotel in Germany

To add insult to injury, the military are still trying to spend millions from public funds on expensive weaponry.


The whole situation is made much worse by the fact that the conservative elites have worked hard to destroy a democracy that was moving towards building a more inclusive and equal society since 2006. Whatever the faults and crimes of the Taksin government, and there were many, Taksin’s policies reflected a more modern vision of an inclusive society with universal health care, job creation and improved education. The alliance between Taksin’s elected governments and the working class and peasantry was just too much for the conservatives. Hence we are now saddled with a parliamentary dictatorship led by the military [see https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI and http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs ]. It is this parliamentary dictatorship which is causing such hardship for the poor during the world Covid 19 pandemic. Given that we will be going into a world economic depression on the scale of the 1930’s, the situation for ordinary Thais can only get worse.

Read my previous article on Covid 19 in Thailand: https://bit.ly/2Syd7L8


Military rule has increased inequality

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The shocking levels of increasing inequality in Thailand have been recently revealed by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018 [See https://bit.ly/2RxcMFM , https://bit.ly/2QKpW63 ].

The report shows that inThailand, the richest 1% own and control 66.9% of all wealth. This compares to 51.5, 57.1, 46.6, 32.6, 24.6 and 35.3% for India, Russia, Indonesia, China, the UK and the USA, respectively. The Gini coefficient, which is a measure representing the income or wealth distribution of a country, also shows the stark inequality in Thailand. A value of 100% indicates absolute inequality, whereas 0% would indicate total equality. Thailand’s Gini coefficient stands at 90.2% compared to 63.1, 85.4, 84.0, 76.7 and 65.8 % for Japan, India, Indonesia, Finland and Australia, respectively.

Writing in the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia in 2015, Kevin Hewison wrote that “Economic and political inequalities in Thailand are mutually reinforcing conditions that have resulted from the ways in which the gains of rapid economic growth have been captured by elites. Preserving these privileges produces a political structure that is exclusionary and dominated by an authoritarian elite.” [See https://bit.ly/2Ac81L6].

Since the 2006 military coup against the elected Taksin government, I have argued in my book “A Coup for the Rich” that the Thai political crisis has its roots in the way that Taksin’s party responded to gross inequality and the 1997 economic crisis. This response gave him a huge electoral advantage and threatened the status quo [see https://bit.ly/2aE7zc6 ].

It is hardly surprising that military intervention in Thai politics has increased inequality since the ruling class faction represented by the military and the royalist conservatives are extreme neo-liberals.

With the upcoming elections, it is good that some political parties, like the Future Forward Party, are talking about the need for a welfare state. But their proposals do not go far enough, as they do not advocate a supertax on the 1% of the richest Thais. Prominent among this 1% is the Thai monarchy, which is obscenely wealthy. The wealth of the Thai monarchy is part of a deal struck by the military since dictator Sarit’s time. In return for allowing the King to control such wealth he was expected to toe the line and support and legitimise military dictatorships and all manner of authoritarian behaviour by the elites. The military and the elites then use the lèse-majesté law to protect themselves and their puppet king. This arrangement has continued under Wachiralongkorn. But it is not just the monarchy that makes up the 1%. It is comprised of the owners of top Thai multinationals such as the CP Corporation.


To tax this 1%, the power of the elites, which is ultimately guaranteed by the military, has to be broken. This means taking on the military. It means being able to talk about the monarchy by scrapping the lèse-majesté law.

In addition to this, the minimum wage needs to be raised to civilised levels, perhaps raising it by more than 100%. Other wages need to be raised too. This requires the building of a strong trade union movement, something which has been ignored for too long. Even the Future Forward Party has not made any commitment to this; not surprising since the party leader is a business tycoon.

What should never be forgotten is that social equality is fundamental to building participatory democracy. Those who worry every day about how to make ends meet often struggle to become politically active in order to bring about change.

Apart from strong trade unions, we need a socialist party of the working class in order to advocate progressive policies which go well beyond the achievements of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai or the promises of the Future Forward Party.

Let them eat cake!!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut has been frothing at the mouth about the poor. The junta’s idea about dealing with poverty was to make poor people go through the demeaning process of registering themselves as “poor” in order to receive small miserable payments. This year about 13 million people registered. At the same time, the junta has made attempts to cut the minimum wage and cut spending on health and education.

Millionaire dictator Prayut (worth 129 million baht three years ago) helped himself to state funded salaries by seizing power in a military coup. Top Thai generals grab much more than their military salaries by giving themselves multiple paid positions and creaming off percentages from arms purchases and other under the table activities.

Yet Prayut had the gall to give a lecture to the poor. The poor, he said, need to change their life-styles and stop being “lazy”. He ranted that the country could not afford to look after the poor. This is at a time when the junta’s cronies have been helping themselves to salaries for doing nothing, while never attending meetings. No doubt they have been “hard at work” lining their own pockets with various corrupt business dealings and state paid foreign shopping trips.

In the same week megalomaniac Prayut ranted about nurses. Thousands of nurses have been protesting because they are sick and tired of their temporary contracts and low pay. Their main demand is to be appointed as permanent state employees. At the same time, two thousand temporary staff at the Ministry of Justice are facing uncertainty about their futures.

Prayut harangued the nurses, asking them if they thought they were the only people who worked hard. He shouted that the country couldn’t afford to give everyone permanent jobs. The military then announced that they were in the process of buying some more tanks. This is after huge sums were spent on buying Chinese submarines. The junta are also spending millions on the late king’s funeral and the new king is enjoying himself flitting around in his own state funded airliner between his palace in Germany and royal palaces in Thailand.

Over the last three years since Prayut’s coup, military spending has sky-rocketed, increasing every year by huge amounts. Currently the military budget stands at 222 billion baht, more than the government spends on public health.

After the nurses protested, the Ministry of Health promised to gradually appoint some of them to permanent posts over a period of 3 years. This falls short of the nurses’ demands, but it does show that mass protests are effective and still possible if people have the determination.

After threatening to shut down Facebook unless they censored articles and pictures which the junta do not like, Prayut gave a TV lecture on the need for Thai people to “think outside the box”. He claimed that the government was doing all that it could to develop the use of the internet! In reality anyone daring to think outside the junta’s box faces being dragged off for “attitude changing sessions” in secret military camps and also being imprisoned under the draconian lèse-majesté law. Merely asking in public about the missing 1932 revolution plaque, or attempting to commemorate Prayut’s massacre of Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, has resulted in arrests.

This is indeed a lying, corrupt and hypocritical authoritarian regime.